Before we begin this discussion of the live-action Dora the Explorer movie produced by Michael Bay, I’d like to introduce you all to the term “meta-modernism.” Essentially, it’s a development in aesthetics and philosophy that sort of combines elements of modernism and post-modernism. Basically, it refers to the simultaneously genuine and ironic presentation or enjoyment of something. For example, look at the “Lego Movie.” It’s literally a commercial, has campy jokes, and aggressive ironic songs like “Everything Is Awesome,” but in the end, it has a real, heartfelt message about family and friendship.
Anyway, now that we have the definition of an artistic movement out of the way, we can talk about “Dora and the Lost City of Gold,” which is in my opinion, a meta-modernist masterpiece. The film opens with a scene showing our heroes, Dora and Diego, going on a childhood adventure through the wild with all their classic friends from the series. Map remarks, “I’m a talking map!” Backpack comments “I’m a backpack with a mouth!” Then we cut out of the fantasy and see really, this adventure was just two kids playing in a cardboard box. Dora even looks off into the distance to ask, “Can you say delicioso?” to her father’s (Michael Pena) confusion. “She’ll grow out of it,” he says before quickly looking back to make sure there’s really no one there. Already, the film has shown us it knows how ridiculous it is to base itself off a semi-surreal children’s show about learning Spanish. It knows, and it is going to revel in it.
To give a quick plot rundown, Diego moves away from “the jungle” where he and Dora grew up, and then there’s a time skip. Now, teenage Dora must move to “the city” because her professor parents are going on a long quest for “The Lost City of Gold” and can’t bring her. Dora experiences a different jungle: high school. But then things go south when she and a few classmates are kidnapped by mercenaries, who want to use her to track her parents. They escape and brave the jungle on their own.
The film strikes a perfect tone throughout, playing up the ridiculousness of the cartoon with an unrelenting, childlike and optimistic teenage Dora, who still exists in her own fantasy world, while the people around her call her out for being insane. She makes up songs to make tasks like pooping in the woods more fun. She talks to Boots (who in this world is just a domesticated monkey) like he can understand. Dora always carries survival gear with her, even in high school. Everyone else, rightfully, makes fun of her for these attributes. Diego is embarrassed by her. Again, the film acknowledges the ridiculousness.
And yet, as it progresses, the characters grow fond of Dora’s ways. They embrace her campiness and find that it helps them cope with their perilous situation, even singing a song to Dora when they’re worried she’s catatonic. They begin to admire Dora and look to her and her attitude for guidance. There’s a transition in the characters from ironic outlook on Dora to a genuine appreciation for what she is and how she views the world. It’s perfectly executed and shows the audience that sure, things like singing about pooping is dumb, but it’s also fine to enjoy it and find catharsis in it as well.
There are other things I love about the movie, with its cheeky and clever set-ups and pay-offs and generally great humor (at one point, Diego ruffles her hair and takes her headband so she’ll stand out less in high school, and she asks,“Is this to help me fit in with the indigenous people?”), and a brilliant animated segment. Basically, I recommend this movie to anyone and everyone, especially people with that Gen Z, meta-modern sense of humor.
Also “Swiper” can talk and no one acknowledges that it’s weird.